Horse Training

Kind Hands

August 25, 2009

Why having quiet hands is important for you and your horse.

By Julie Goodnight, from the Certified Horsemanship Association

Soft quiet hands are not only good for your horse, but for your overall presentation in a class as well.

Soft, quiet hands are not only good for your horse, but for your overall presentation in a class, too.

Quiet, still and steady hands are the hallmark of a good rider. When a rider has good hands, the horse is more relaxed, more responsive and a better performer.

So how do we develop good hands? As with most things in riding, the answer goes back to good fundamentals. A balanced position, proper hand position and relaxed and supple joints lead to soft hands.

Hand Position Facts:

  • The rider must be in the balanced position, with ear-shoulder-hip-heel alignment. Until you are balanced, you will tend to rely on your hands for help. Try this simple exercise: Stand on the ground in a position like you ride, with your feet about shoulder-width apart and knees bent. Now lift your heels way off the ground and notice how difficult it becomes to keep your balance. At this point, you will notice that you start using your arms to regain your balance. This shows what happens when you are not weighted in your heels and, instead, are balanced on the stirrup. Because your balance is altered, you begin to balance on your hands.

One of they factors judges look for when when judging a class is a rider whose hands and body are soft, quiet and relaxed. Learn more about what judges are looking for in a western pleasure class in our “Showing to Win: Western Pleasure” DVD.

  • To have good hands, you must have soft, relaxed muscles and joints. When you bounce up and down (for instance as the horse trots), it is caused by you tensing your shoulders. When a rider tenses her shoulders, she shortens the line between her ears and shoulders, and it causes a locking of the shoulder joints. Try conducting warm-up exercises, such as shoulder rolls, to counteract this.
  • Proper hand position is an important goal. You should have relaxed upper arms, with your arms hanging close to your ribcage so that they are stabilized by your torso. The elbow must always remain bent and flexible so that the elbow can act as a shock absorber and absorb the motion of the horse’s head as he moves.
  • Your lower arm must form a straight line between the elbow and the corner of the horse’s mouth.  Many riders tend to ride with the wrist instead of shoulders and elbows.
  • Quiet, steady hands come from good posture. Many riders tend to round their shoulders and slump in the saddle. Rounded shoulders are not really a problem of the shoulders at all; it comes from collapsing the ribcage onto the spine. The solution to this posture problem is to lift the sternum and lift the ribcage off the spine. There must be a separation between the ribcage and the spine to allow for the movement that occurs in the lower body as the horse moves, while the shoulders and arms must remain still and quiet.
  • A final attribute of good hands in a rider is the ability to use the hands independently of each other. As you advance, you will be required to use different rein aids with each hand simultaneously, which requires coordination.

Have you ever left the arena wondering why you didn’t place in your western pleasure class? AQHA’s “Showing to Win: Western Pleasure” DVD may be able to shed some light on your question. From cadence to headset, this DVD covers exactly what a judge is looking for in this popular class.

It is never too early in your career to begin working on developing good hands. By addressing proper position, balance, good posture and coordination regularly, you can develop soft hands, and the horse will reap the benefits.

For more ideas on how to become a stronger horseman, check out AQHA’s “Fundamentals of Horsemanship.” Each installment contains great exercises to help build and improve skills necessary for both you and your horse.

AQHA has found yet another way for people to get their American Quarter Horse fix. Did you know that Americas Horse TV has all kinds of great footage of Quarter Horses and influential horsemen? And best of all, it’s totally FREE!